‘Tis the season for credit card transactions. Many of us have come to depend on our beloved plastic debit cards to get us through the ups and downs of life, maximize rewards and cash back, or in this case, spread holiday cheer with lots of presents. Rather than traipse through overcrowded shopping malls, more and more people are taking their shopping online. But that convenience comes with some challenges for credit card security.
Unlike shopping in-store, online shopping does not take advantage of the chip in your card, which offers extra security protection. When you enter your credit card online, you normally need to give all your credit card information, including the CVV or CVC number. A cyber criminal who has access to your credit card number, expiration date, and CVV essentially might as well just have your credit card.
You can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your financial data, even if you would most likely not be liable to pay for transactions you didn’t make. But how do you know that a hacker has managed to collect your credit card information in the first place? Here are five signs that your credit card information has been compromised, plus what you can do to protect yourself.
Sign #1: Your credit card company calls you.
Getting the dreaded call from your financial institution telling you that something strange is going on with your credit card can be a rude awakening. You may have a million other things going on, what with all the holiday parties and dinners and gift wrapping. Your credit card company is constantly monitoring your account for possible fraudulent activity. It may be nothing, but if something doesn’t look quite right, they will call you immediately.
Security tip: Be careful that you’re not falling for a scam. If you have any concerns that this may not actually be a genuine call from your bank, then you should hang up and call them back at a known telephone number. (NOT one they just gave you of course.)
Sign #2: Your card is declined.
A declined credit card payment can be embarrassing—especially when you’re covering the check at the restaurant. But if a thief has stolen your credit card information, he or she may very well have maxed it out and used up all your available credit. Or it may be that suspicious activity on your card has raised a flag with your credit card provider, prompting them to put a hold on your card. Either way, if your card is declined, it’s time to investigate and find out why.
Security tip: Given the choice, make your in-person purchases using the EMV card security chip rather than swiping. It’s much more secure. For online transactions, considering signing up with PayPal so that all of your credit card transactions pass through their secure website. You can still pay with a credit card, but all your credit card info is retained by PayPal and not with all the online vendors that you may use.
Sign #3: You notice strange transactions in your account.
You should keep an eye on your credit card account on a daily basis, not just during the holiday season. As you scan your online account, look for strange, unfamiliar charges—it could be a purchase made in a distant location or with a business you never patronize. A credit card thief may go on a shopping spree, buying up products and services that you would never buy. That’s a sure sign of unauthorized use of your credit card.
Security tip: Only use your credit card on websites that are secure. Make sure that they have SSL/TLS security (you should see HTTPS in the URL and a “locked” icon in your address bar). This will make it much harder for a hacker to intercept your credit card information.
Sign #4: Your account balance is lower.
If you’re one of those people who uses your credit card on a daily basis, you may not immediately notice anything odd in the long list of transactions. But if you track your credit card account like you would a checkbook, you will notice right away that the balance doesn’t match. The hacker may do some small test transactions at first just to make sure that the card data is valid. Constantly monitoring your account balances and transactions can help prevent more purchases that could clean out your account.
Security tip: Track your credit card balances on paper, in a spreadsheet, or with financial software. You should track your credit card account just as you would a checking account. Record everything you spend as you spend it. This will not only help you control your spending, but it could be the best way to nip a major cyber crime in the bud. At the minimum, regularly review your transactions and ensure they are yours.
Sign #5: You see information on your credit report that does not make sense.
Along with your credit card account, you should regularly monitor your credit report as well. Cyber criminals who have your credit card data may do more than just make a few purchases. They can actually use it to steal your identity, giving them enough information to open new credit cards or loans in your name. This activity won’t show on your credit card, but it may come up on your credit report. You can get a free credit report every year, but you can also use free sites like www.creditkarma.com to see what credit activity goes on in your name.
Security tip: Check your credit report regularly (not just your score), and consider signing up for a credit monitoring service, which will provide you with immediate alerts and notifications of activity on your accounts. These services can also alert you to possible identity theft.
Final holiday season security tips
It’s your responsibility to protect your credit card data. Be sure to shop only on websites that you trust and that have a good reputation. If anything seems fishy, trust your instincts and delay any purchase until you’re completely satisfied with the site’s validity. Look up reviews and other content on a website before giving them your business. Track your transactions closely, and report anything suspicious to your credit card company immediately. Be vigilant, and keep your credit card activity under control. Your financial well-being and reputation are at stake—it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to credit card security.
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